“You want to become a writer? Are you drunk?”
That was one of the many reactions I received after I made the conscious decision to take writing seriously. I can’t blame anyone for reacting like that – prior to September 2017, I had never once openly expressed an interest in writing. It was always something I’d considered doing when I had more time. When my children are more settled in school, when things get quieter in work, when the latest season of Game of Thrones is over. The list of reasons not to write grew longer and longer.
Then, in September 2017 something happened. For years I juggled parenthood, working and building my app development side-project. After one particular project went south, a moment of clarity struck me when I asked myself what I wanted to do. Did I want to spend every spare hour continuing to build and develop apps? I thought about that question over and over until I came to a realisation.
Deep down, app development was nothing more than a means to an end. I wanted to grow my app portfolio for no other reason than to increase my income. That would then allow me to quit my job and focus on what I really wanted to do – write. From that moment, an idea crystallised. Rather than spending what little free time I had doing something that I may have been good at but realistically, had no interest in, I decided to start writing.
The transition wasn’t easy, but I did have a head start. Prior to forming my first app development company two years previously, I had written roughly thirty pages of a story based on a vivid dream I had. I dusted this story off, re-read and edited it and then I wrote a single sentence. From that sentence a paragraph was born, followed by an entire chapter.
I became possessed, spending every (extremely rare) moment of peace and quiet dragging a story out of me. It was something I had been thinking about for years, something that I had torn apart and put back together so many times, that it felt more realistic than the real world.
Determined not to rest until I had this story completed, I worked furiously around the clock, eventually finishing it two hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve 2017. The sense of satisfaction from drafting a 100,000-word story struck me like a hammer. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience as I read through it. Through sheer force of will, I had ignored every desire to relax, laze about and waste my time and instead, had built an entire world from scratch.
It isn’t easy and there are times when the last thing in the world I want to do is write. I sometimes think back to September 2017 and wonder what things would have been like if I didn’t have that epiphany. There would have been no self-publishing journey, no countless hours of bashing away at a keyboard, no publishing deal and certainly no Big Red.
I could easily have kept on developing apps and who knows where I’d be with that now. The most important thing is that I’m happy. I’m glad I made that decision. I’m glad I spent months sacrificing my free time to write Big Red. I’m glad I have the opportunity to be a writer.
And no, I’m not drunk. (Well… Not that drunk…)
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and it’s great to be back!
I had a busy few weeks after Big Red’s launch which didn’t leave a lot of time for blogging. Thankfully, things have started to settle down a bit. For the first time in what feels like an eternity, I have time to dive back into a few different projects, some of which I’m hoping to share with you soon…
The first project I wanted to take on is this blog. I’ve since rebranded it from (the not-so-original name of) ‘My Blog’ to the ‘Mars Occupation Force – Press Office’. Whereas beforehand I wrote a bit about Big Red and my journey so far, I’m now looking to expand my horizons.
Over the last few months, I’ve had the chance to delve into so many fantastic military sci-fi and Irish sci-fi and fantasy books. My goal is to expand on these topics a bit more and shine a spotlight on some amazing novels and topics you may already know about, as well as some you may not have heard of.
I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and talk with some fantastic Irish sci-fi and fantasy writers, who I’m hoping to guilt into dropping by on this blog to say hello. It’s been an amazing year for Irish SFF writers and I’m really excited about seeing what the rest of the year holds in store!
For anyone who’s been following along, The British/Irish Writing Community has also been taking our next steps towards global domination. We’ve spent the last few months throwing around ideas and seeing what we can do as a community. Finally, we’ve decided to launch our own quarterly magazine.
It’s still early days on this but we’ve had a lot of interest so far. Our overall plan is to use this platform to highlight and promote the fantastic works of Irish and British writers of all levels who write speculative fiction. There’s no official launch date in sight, but if you know anyone who’s interested, have them check us out on FB or Twitter!
Hopefully I’ll have more details on the above topics in my next blog post. In the meantime, if any writers out there are looking to do a guest post/interview for an up-and-coming launch or just for the fun of it, let me know in the comments below. I’ve learned a lot from the community and I’m looking forward to giving back.
There’s more to come soon, so stay tuned!
The next time you get stuck for an idea and find the whole process so frustrating you want to commit random acts of violence, stop and let things incubate. Nature does it so well. New life arrives in an egg but it needs to be warmed up to encourage growth. Even then, life needs to chip away at the hard shell that’s provided protection during the incubation process, until it finally arrives into the world.
Ideas don’t just happen, they need incubation too.
If you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you’ll know this episode well. Sheldon tries to apply Wave Theory to a particular problem which eludes him. He tries all sorts of comical methods - using peas and lima beans then later, organising the plastic balls in a kids’ playcentre’s ball pit. In the end he takes on menial work (doing Penny’s job!) and, when he drops a tray of dirty crockery, the resulting mess provides the answer.
Sheldon used a method called Divergent Incubation. By taking a break from the creative process, to do something which doesn’t challenge the brain, the synapses continue the thinking process, undisturbed by new stimuli. Or from going around and around in frustrating circles. Refreshed and renewed, when you revisit the topic, your brain has caught up and found the answer.
Think of it like this: the brain is like a computer and sometimes we can demand so much of its processing systems, that it starts to buffer. It can’t cope with the pressure we place on it. As writers we demand a lot from our brains. Ideas that offer the next plot twist, the means to define a character or describe a location, the challenge of choosing the right words, reflecting on the story’s tone, pace and rhythms. On top of that come the emotional and personal issues that complicate everything: the crippling self-doubt, the stress of cramming your writing into the spare hour when family and work don’t demand it.
It's not surprising the brain starts to buffer, is it?
Divergent Incubation comes in different forms, it can include sleep. I know lots of authors have woken up with ideas or dreamed them. Paul McCartney conceived his hit Yesterday in his sleep!
If you’re a “pantser” I think that pressure is even greater. We force ourselves into situations in our story where we don’t know what’s going to happen next. John Keats called it Negative Keepability, the ability to stay in a space where you don’t know what’s going to happen next, it’s a willingness to chase down ideas that may lead somewhere. We believe (or just hope beyond all reason) that the experience of pursuing an idea will influence the next step in the story. It can generate as much despair as it triggers excitement but when that despair strikes – and it will – this is when you need to step back and give your brain that chance to process things, to buffer.
So next time you get stuck for ideas, let them incubate. Go do the washing up, clean your home, sweep the leaves off the patio. Not only will it benefit your writing, you may find your Significant Other is grateful for this sudden burst of industry too. When they ask you why – tell them you’re incubating - and watch their reaction.It took eight years of messing around with his story before Phil Parker published it himself. It was only when he was selected to join the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course that he developed the confidence to pursue this goal. Since then he's learned a lot. Some of it he's outlined in this post. He's still trying to make sense of the rest.http://http://viewauthor.at/PhilParker
It took eight years of messing around with his story before Phil Parker published it himself. It was only when he was selected to join the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course that he developed the confidence to pursue this goal. Since then he's learned a lot. Some of it he's outlined in this post. He's still trying to make sense of the rest.
On January 15th 2018, I joined Twitter. My intention was to prepare the ground for when I published my Knights’ Protocol trilogy, which would be three months later. The date represents the moment I committed to starting a new career.
Which sounds grand and laudable perhaps, except I had no idea what I was doing. I’d suffered enough, trying the traditional route to publishing so decided to tread my own path and self-publish. I’ve learned a huge amount in the last year, THREE lessons stand out.
Research – get familiar with the landscape.
I spent a lot of time researching which marketplace I wanted to use. There’s lots of advice out there, it’s conflicting as you might expect, so that meant having to compare and contrast, like at school. It’s potentially the biggest decision anyone makes so choosing carefully is essential.
I found Tom Corson-Knowles’ The Kindle Publishing Bible to be a great help. It explained issues such as devising saleable titles, writing book descriptions that sell, how to get reviews (ethically) and promotional campaigns. It’s objective too. Kindle Direct Publishing pages will save you time and increase your awareness too I found.
Navigate the jungle of social media
I’ve met people who only Follow agents and publishers. I’ve found the greatest benefit comes from a network of folk who will support you, share similar values and experiences – people you’d call friends in the real world!
I don’t just click Follow to anyone either. I check profiles, see what they’re posting. That way you network will always remain focused on the topics you want to see in your feed.
I prefer Twitter. It’s easy to use and concise in its content. I went through Follower lists of the people I Followed to identify like-minded folk. I discovered software that helped me analyse my data to sharpen up my account – Manage Flitter is the best. It’s free if you only have one account and can help you work efficiently.
I suffer Facebook. I dislike its endless pressure to advertise and haven’t found that it works anyway. It didn’t help that my first book, The Bastard from Fairyland, caused them to ban my adverts for the use of profane language! However, Facebook does have useful forums you can join, some of which help promote your work.
Finally, to get real traction, you need to spend time on these platforms. It is a commitment but it does pay off in the long run. People get to know about you, they buy your books on the back of it. Spread yourself too thin (over several platforms) or only log in occasionally, and you don’t get the relationships you need. It’s like any friendship!
Appearance is Everything – get noticed on your journey
It took me six months to learn this lesson! You’re not the only one on a journey with your book. That old adage about not judging a book by its cover doesn’t apply in this context! People do judge! Plus, you need to stand out. The answer?
Get your book designed professionally. I tried to cut corners, bought images and used Amazon’s book cover systems and thought I was being clever. They were crap. I look at the originals even now and shudder in embarrassment. Yes, it will cost money but you will recoup it in the long run.
Tom Parker (@papagaeio) designed mine. These people think in visual media, as writers we use the written word. Tom asked me for an outline of the books but also their themes, backgrounds, even one-word definitions. (I gave him Rage for my first book and I suggest you see what he did with it!).
A few final thoughts:
1. Writing is a lonely business. The internet is changing that. There are online groups you can join but social media offers you forums where you can share ideas, concerns and general chat with others who are just like you. It is not infested with trolls.
2. Get people to review your work – but check them out first. Make sure they are bone fide reviewers, people who consistently offer constructive comments. There are people – even businesses – who offer to do this for you but I recommend forming relationships with bloggers, it’s more honest and rewarding.
3. The hashtag is a wonderful tool to identify networks and themes. Such as #BritishIrishWritingCommunity
4. Don’t spend all your time on social media plugging your book. You’ll annoy people. Promote others, they’ll do the same for you. Show you’re a person first, a book-selling author second!
Good luck with your writing and your career as an author!http://http://viewauthor.at/PhilParker
I posted previously about the world-building involved in creating Big Red, giving some insight into where I got the ideas from and what inspired me. With just over sixty days to go until Big Red lands in a book shop near you, I wanted to dive a bit into the background, giving readers a better insight into the fictional back story and history. A lot of these events took place before the characters of Big Red arrived on Mars, but in a lot of ways these events shaped their surroundings and environment. So, here goes!
As World War 2 drew to a close in Europe, Nazi scientists perfected a revolutionary new form of long-range interstellar travel. Having been used to establish secret research facilities on Mars in the 1930s, this was hailed by an increasingly deteriorating Hitler as a chance to turn the tide on the Allies.
Hampering the Nazi leadership was the fact that this technology was based on unknown origins and couldn’t be operated to transport troops to any point on Earth. As the Russians advanced to the gates of Berlin, an increasing number of high-ranking party officials began to break with Hitler’s fantastical beliefs of a final victory and contemplated using this new technology as a chance to escape. With the Russian forces emerging victorious in the brutal Battle of Berlin, the last remnants of the Third Reich escaped the slaughter and retreated to the only place the Allies couldn’t reach them – Mars.
On Mars, the Nazis had long since established formal relations with the indigenous population dubbed “The Natives”. These Natives were an agrarian society, primarily living underground in subterranean communities. Although they had an awareness and even an understanding of technology, they had forsaken it to pursue a more idyllic life based on community, hard work and family.
Believing the lies of the new German settlers that they were fleeing genocidal persecution back on Earth, the Natives readily allowed the Nazis to excavate the planet in search of technologies left over by the forebearers of the Natives. Rumoured to be a powerful and technologically advanced civilisation, the Nazis believed that this would give them the upper hand in their quest to reconquer not just Germany, but the entire world…
That’s all for this week, folks! In the next post, I’ll detail pivotal events in the Big Red story covering the (historically documented) 1947 Roswell UFO Incident, the 1952 Washington UFO incident and the 1952 Stalin note.
These events together serve as a catalyst for the Allied response to German plans to stage a comeback and the 1954 Allied invasion of Mars (culminating in the oft-referenced “Battle of New Berlin”).
Stay tuned and don’t forget – Big Red lands on the 14th May!
I always tend to start my blog posts with some reference to how busy I’ve been. I tried to come up with some other way of starting this post, but the truth is; I have indeed been kept busy. So, without further ado, it’s time for a quick catch up and a progress report!
Probably my most exciting piece of news is that I’ll be attending Titancon 2019 in Belfast 24th-25th August. I’m really excited about this as I’ve never been able to attend a con before. To top if off, I’ll be doing a book signing at the con and hosting a talk about Twitter pitches for aspiring writers.
For those of you who’ve followed my journey from the start, you’ll remember I got a lot of interest for Big Red during last year’s #IWSGpit. Not only was that the first time publishers had ever expressed an interest in my work, but it also allowed me to land a traditional publishing deal with my amazing publisher.
I’ve talked about Twitter pitch events during various radio, magazine, and newspaper interviews and I’m still amazed by people’s reactions. I know a lot of people in the Twitter writing community are aware of these events, but there’s still a lot of writers out there who aren’t. Just like any other form of querying, participation doesn’t automatically guarantee success, but it does open up your work to a whole load of potential matches. I’m really looking forward to chatting about this and hopefully pointing a few aspiring writers in the right direction.
In other news, the British/Irish Writing Community has nearly finished work on our very first e-zine and website. We’ve opened submissions to writers from all across Ireland and UK and some of the short stories we’ve received have been mind-blowingly good. Thanks again to everyone who’s gotten involved! I really can’t wait to share the very first issue with everyone. Also, keep an eye out for my own short story ‘The Republic of Inishdearg’. More details on that soon!
Last of all, I’m making steady progress on my current WIP. I’ve had a few mini projects over the last few months that slowed things down , but I’m glad to say I’ve thrown myself full steam into it again. I’m roughly halfway through the first draft now, which I’m aiming to have done early to mid-September. I’ll leak some details about it in a future post, so stay tuned!
That’s all from me for this week, folks. I’ve plenty more good news to share with you soon, so watch this space!
You may have heard the stat that up to 81% of Americans think they have a book in them — a book they want to write, that is, not a manuscript lurking in their intestines somewhere. (Sorry for the mental image.) Extrapolating from that figure, we can assume that roughly 4 out of 5 people reading this right now have an idea for a book — and some of you may have already taken steps toward making it a reality!
But before you excitedly tell all your friends about the Great American Novel you’re going to write, or order new business cards that say “[Your Name]: Professional Author,” you should sit down and evaluate your expectations for this process. Writing a book is infinitelyeasier said than done, and if you don’t know what’s in store for you, you’ll find yourself discouraged before you’ve even begun. That’s why I want to share these five key things to know about writing a book — so you’ll be prepared to meet each challenge that crops up along the way.
Perhaps the number-one misconception about writing a book is that talent is the most important factor. While I have no doubt that many of you are brilliant writers — and that your potential will blossom into tangible triumphas you write your book — you can’t rely on talent alone to propel you through 300 pages. For that, you’ll need an entirely different ingredient: dedication.
It’s easy enough tosayyou’re committed to writing a book, and even to plan a rigorous writing routine that carves out blocks of writing time every day. However, when the hour comes to actually write, it’s a lot more difficult to force yourself to do it… over and over again, especially on the days when it doesn’t feel fun or rewarding, but like a total slog.
This is where dedication comes in. If you’re not 100% dedicated to finishing your book, you’re simply not going to make it. Most great writers have talent, yes, but they also have dedication in spades. For example,Stephen King writes 2,000 words every single day, even on holidays. Maya Angelou supposedly aimed for 2,500, famously declaring, “Nothing will work unless you do.” And countless renowned writers through the ages, from Franz Kafka to Ursula K. Le Guin to Danielle Steel, have gotten up early and/or gone to bed late so they could bank some extra writing time.
If you’re just starting out, forget about artistry and perfection; these things will naturally be honed with practice. But unless you’re able to truly dedicate your time and effort to a project, you may as well call it quits right now.
Another potentially crippling misconception is that you don’t need to outline your book before you write, because you can always “figure things out along the way.” While I completely understand if you’re more of a pantser than a plotter — I consider myself a pantser, in fact — writing your first book is a huge undertaking and you'll almost certainly needan outline to guide you through it. After all, you wouldn’t try to build a house without blueprints, would you? (If you answered, “Sure, why not!” remind me never to hire you as my contractor.)
In any case, even if it seems unnecessary right now, trust me that your outline will become yourlifelineas you delve deeper into your book. It will help you remember important events, character arcs, and themes you want to incorporate throughout the story. And if you get stuck and start to despair, you can always return to your outline for encouragement and inspiration.
At the bare minimum, this outline should include a few lines for each major plot point, perhaps with offshooting notes about other elements or thoughts you may have as you’re brainstorming. I’d definitely recommend the “web” structure or snowflake method for fellow pantsers, as these allow for the most flexibility. But of course, no outline is set in stone — feel free to change it as you come up with new ideas, or leave parts of it blank if you’re not sure what should happen. The important thing is that youhave one, so you can refer back to it when need be.
Once you actually begin writing, with a prepared outline and true dedication to your work, you’ll probably feel incredibly excited about your project and the possibilities it holds. You may still have a few kinks to work out, but in all likelihood, this energy will carry you through the first few chapters — possibly to the midpoint of your book.
Unfortunately, the midpoint is often where even the most dedicated writers start to falter. You might suddenly register a gaping plothole, realize you’ve neglected one of your characters, or simply run out of creative steam. Setbacks like these are always discouraging, but especially when you’re right in the thick of it: far enough along that major revisions seem impossible to enact, yet not close enough to the finish line to give you that final burst of motivation.
When you get stuck in the middle of your book, you have two options — you can either work through doggedly, or take a break. Be careful with either of these, as the first can cause burnout, while the second can all-too-easily lead to giving up. However, if you can figure out which works for you (hint: it’s usually the opposite of what youwantto do), you’ll surely find your way out of this literary labyrinth you’ve created.
I personally find that taking a break, while at the same time setting concrete limits, works best for me. If I lose my footing in a project, I take a week — no longer — to work on other pieces and enjoy my hobbies. Most of the time, thisincubation period is exactly what I need to solve the problem that’s been plaguing me. By the time I get back to writing a week later, I’m fully unblocked, recharged, and more than ready to get back to work.
You know how I just said that what you wantto do is usually the opposite of what youshoulddo? Well, that advice also applies to asking for feedback (and exercising, but I digress). 95% of writers I’ve met, including myself, are highly reluctant to show their work to anyone. This is extremely understandable — after all, if you’ve chosen this path, it probably means that writing is near and dear to your heart, and even a single word of criticism can feel like a crushing blow.
But once you’ve finished the first draft of your book, it’s time to toughen up and do it anyway. Friends, family, fellow writers: these are all invaluable sources of feedback as you transition into your next draft. They’ll confirm what you need to fix or change, and point out issues you never would’ve noticed by yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to show your book to everyone you know, but if you can pick a handful of advisors to give you feedback, it will be a huge help in avoiding bigger problems — like scathing reviews from actualcritics — down the line.
And after you’ve shown the book to your personal contacts,consider getting a professional beta reader or editor to take a look. Fair warning: their feedback will likely be less considerate than your friends’, but more honest and helpful overall. These pros know what they’re doing, and you can trust their opinions, even if you don’t always feel good about them. Just keep in mind that, no matter how painful the process, listening to feedback will ultimately result in a better book.
Congrats! You’ve made it through the first, second, maybe even third or fourth draft of your manuscript, and it’sfinally finished. What are you going to do next?
You might just pop some champagne and close your ridiculously long Google Doc forever, satisfied in the knowledge that you achieved your goal. But if you’re like most authors, you’ll probably want people to read your book — which means, of course, publishing it.
Traditional publishing can sometimes seem so lengthy, complex, and filled with rejection that you may feel it’s futile from the start. However, if you break it down into bite-sized pieces, it’s much more manageable (and definitely worthwhile if you can get signed with a major publisher)! You can start byquerying agents and submitting your manuscript to slush piles, and if you have success, move into additional edits and negotiations from there.